Archive for December, 2019

“Hide and Seek,” (Sermon, Christmas Morning 2019)

Welcome.

I am so glad you’re here.

Heidi is so glad you’re here.

God is glad you’re here.

Understand that God is chuffed that you’re anywhere, living the life She has poured out for you in an ecstasy of reckless abundance…but today, when God comes among us in the brown chubby knees of a newborn, God is especially glad that you’re here.

Because God won’t do this alone.

It is not in God’s nature to be solitary. If it were, we wouldn’t be here. Not here in church, but here, anywhere. The trees and the rain and the clouds and the mountains and the seas would not be here. God wove a world not out of necessity but pure delight in the beauty of relationship.

And so here we are. We heard the call of the Beloved, and now we have come to the stable. But we have not come to sit idly by and observe this mystery with appropriate solemnity and reverence. No, we are here to play a game. God asks us to walk into a place at once terribly ordinary and utterly astounding, and search, like we might once have done for Waldo, or the Christmas presents at the back of the closet.

Search for me, God invites, and, once found, is sure to squeal with delight like a toddler.

What a wonderful hiding place for the divine – in the soft brown skin of a Jewish baby born in occupied territory.

Because God is that, has been that, and today, will be that, for all of us.

Welcome. Welcome, says the Beloved. Will you search for me?

Some of us spend our lives searching.

Searching for meaning, for love, for safety, for truth, for justice, for beauty.

We go very far afield in the quest for these things. Not every path leads us away from the Beloved. Some lead us ever closer, or encircle and enclose the holy. And some of them lead us into barren places far away from all of those things, and from our own hearts.

But even this in itself might not be a sin, for only an empty place can be filled.

The 18th century German writer Goethe once said, “It is the nature of grace always to fill spaces that have been empty.” And today, the cradle, the stable, the world is full. Today all the earth is afire with the presence of God in the tender flesh of a newborn baby, a most beautifully fragile thing.

And it occurs to me that perhaps the reason that churches become so very full in these few days is that we still, on a cellular level if not an intellectual one, understand that the full stable contains what we have been searching for.

Not the reason for the season. Not the avenging King wielded like a weapon of judgement. Certainly not a pink-cheeked blonde “no crying he makes” porcelain doll which is sure to shatter as soon as he is dropped – and that image was made to be dropped on a marble floor just as his ancestors knocked over the Empire’s carved idols thrust unceremoniously into their temple.

No, we have been searching for someone like us.

Someone who, despite any advantage, any strength, any love, was once inexpressibly vulnerable, needing warmth and food and diapers and patience and resilience both in easy times and hardscrabble times, whether his family had the strength and resources to provide or not.

Someone who, despite what must have been earth-shattering eloquence, was once incapable of being understood as all of us are in the beginning, chewing on words as toddlers and finally mastering them after many misunderstandings – and, of course, never perfect communicators even as articulate adults, for Jesus’ disciples also struggled to understand what he meant years later, and so do we still.

Someone who, despite a commanding presence which would go on to transcend death, began so small and helpless, so demanding, so, so fragile.

Someone like us.

And yet, someone very much unlike us, in whom fullness was pleased to dwell, and who could therefore pour out that fullness to others, and did. We know this to be so, because we are here, here because of someone who died two thousand years ago, someone we never met, and yet whom we met and meet in the eyes of whoever brought us here – parents, friends, strangers, or our own hearts, calling us toward fullness, toward love.

Someone whose life, so fragile and beautiful and joyful, was yet shadowed from the beginning, and continued to be until shadows fell and then shattered against the unmovable power of God’s Yes to life, to grace, to truth.

And that, indeed, makes him like us too.

And if he is like us, then it must be possible, having had him among us, laughing and eating with us and loving us, maybe then we can become a bit like him.

Maybe that changes the game we’re playing in the stable. Maybe it’s not hide-and-seek, but sardines, you remember that game? You find the person, but unless you’re the last one, you don’t reveal them – you have to crowd into the hiding spot with them. How many wandering lovers can fit into a manger? If God could fit Herself into this brown baby, maybe more than we think!

And maybe the biggest joke of all is not imagining a boatload of wanderers crowded into a manger together. Maybe the biggest joke is that we ever thought God could be hidden among us. Maybe the biggest joke is that, again like a toddler, God can’t stop giggling whenever someone still searching comes close but doesn’t quite see Her. Despite all our best attempts to shush Her, God not only refuses, but perhaps even cannot stop giggles escaping like errant soda bubbles. For who could possibly hold back their delight at the sight of the one whom they love, standing close enough to touch, but still somehow unaware of that presence?

So welcome.

I’m so glad you’re here.

Heidi is so glad you’re here.

God is glad you’re here.

Let’s play a game. Cast your eyes about the stable, and don’t be troubled by its sparseness – everything here is full.

Listen hard, and you will hear the giggles – not just from God, but from all of us piled up next to her, who have discovered the ridiculous and amazing beauty of God’s costume of flesh, and cannot help but be delighted.

Search for the Beloved, and know that his face is yours.

What does love look like? (Letters from the Coast)

What does love look like?

It looks like Lily, who I met at the bus stop on my way to my second service of the day several weeks ago. She was beautiful, Indigenous, full of light and laughter, with purple lipstick and a snakebite piercing and a puffy jacket. She sat down next to me and started talking immediately. I must have been wearing purple, because she said it was her favourite colour. She hugged me, asked me how my life was going, said hers was great – she had a good man and it was a beautiful day. Said man was a ways away from her, standing near an older man whom she said was his father.

I got on the bus with all of them…and watched her do the same thing to the woman she sat down next to. Hugs, smiles, laughter like they were old friends, even though I could tell they had never met.

Before I got off the bus, I leaned over and told her, “You have so much love in you. It’s just shining out of you, it’s so awesome.”

What does love look like?

It looks like the volunteer who comes to visit one of the residents at St. Jude’s, who is endlessly patient and kind and rather proper…until she starts speaking in a truly flawless Donald Duck voice, which makes the resident laugh. She says all kinds of things – mostly it’s just a game where the resident requests said voice, and, in the voice, the volunteer says, “No. Uh-uh.” Or she might recite a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

The resident, a 70-year-old German woman who has seen more pain in life than anyone should expect to, laughs and laughs.

What does love look like?

It looks like playing ‘Duck’ (a card game similar to Hearts) at the dining room table just outside of North Plains, Oregon, with my best friend’s family, the winter night thick and dark and quiet all around their little farmhouse, sharing cider and homemade molasses cookies and stories.

Later, it looks me, my best friend, and her mother gathered around the piano and paging through the hymnbook singing songs.

It looks like that uneasy and beautiful mix of tears and pure pink-cheeked delight on the face of another St. Jude’s resident as she turns to see an unexpected friend arriving for a visit and shouts her name.

It looks like the valleys below an airplane I’m riding in at dusk, filled to the brim with a muted blue light.

It looks like three women who live or previously lived at Hineni House arriving for Christmas Eve services and staying late to help tidy after our potluck dinner, dancing and giggling in the kitchen.

It looks like my husband gently persuading me to go to our friend’s new years’ party, even though I would literally do anything else in the world, and later sitting up until 3am with me and talking about all of our thoughts and fears and struggles and dreams for the coming years.

It looks like two travel-weary, frightened, and probably filthy kids arriving in a town for tax purposes only to find themselves caught up short by the inconvenient miracle of childbirth…and the shock of the visit from shepherds still shining from their brush with eternity, saying the slippery, pink, wrinkled, precious creature lying in a trough before them is so much more than that.

It looks like the child’s mother struck silent by these words, turning them over in her mind like small smooth stones from a river that flows on and on, endless and sourceless.

What does love look like?

It looks like resilience. It looks like surprise. It looks like awe.

It looks like us.

Panagia Track #7: O Come all ye faithful

Here’s the final track of Panagia!

I’ve probably been singing this hymn at Christmas since before I could walk. As a child who grew up mostly in Cathedrals and churches with robust music programs, it’s always a huge, bombastic affair with organ, full choir, and often a brass quintet. As I sat down to choose a hymn to close out this project, I wondered what it would be like to imagine the shepherds singing this one to each other immediately after seeing the angels. They would not have had brass or organ or skilled voices, and if they had had any instruments at all, they would have to be small enough to fit on their backs…like my ukulele and my father’s mandolin. I began to imagine them huddled together in the night, full of awe and fear. Then the song begins: just one voice at first, then more and more, and finally a babble of excited voices as they begin to make the journey to Bethlehem to see the child. At first it felt a bit cheesy, but the more I worked, the more moving I found the process to be as I painted the scene for myself. I hope you find that sense of wonder as well.

Thanks for joining me for this year’s Advent project! With no small amount of regret, I will be taking a break from yearly offerings of music, so there will be no Lenten album in 2020. However, this year I am hoping to create an album of devotional music with a professional sound engineer! The working title is “Hallowed Be,” and it will contain six brand new songs and one remastered one, as well as friends lending their instruments and voices. Stay tuned for sneak peeks and updates, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or my blog!

Miri it is while sumer ilast (Panagia Bonus Track)

A treat for the Solstice, from my English ancestors to yours. I discovered this beautiful Medieval piece poking through Youtube for lute music to listen to and then promptly forgot about it until tonight. I had recently worked out a fun three-beat picking pattern on the ukulele that sounded really neat, and I adapted the Middle English into modern for a translated verse. The piece itself is a fragment – only the first verse remains.
Those who purchase a hard copy of “Panagia” will have this track included as a bonus!

Panagia Track #6: The Wexford Carol

Here’s Track 6 of Panagia, a traditional piece called “The Wexford Carol”!

There haven’t really been any tracks in these albums so far that have actually featured the harp on its own, so here’s my setting of this beautiful Irish carol. Its use of Mixolydian mode is always a rather delightful surprise to me, even after hearing it many times, and it’s fun to get a chance to flip the harp’s levers in the middle of playing (or at least, it was once I got the hang of it!) The words to this carol claim to be quite old, and are as follows:

Good people all, this Christmastime
Consider well, and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born

Joy is messy (Letters from the Coast)

It took me a long time to think about something to write for the third week of Advent, which focusses on joy. Many Christians who mark the liturgical year celebrate the third Sunday as “Gaudete Sunday,” and note it on the Advent wreath with a pink candle.

At the risk of sounding rather melodramatic, I had a hard time remembering a moment of joy within the last few years.

It’s not that I’ve been dragging an Eeyore tuckus about the place! It’s more that I’ve been walking through a bit of a plateau, emotionally – a pleasant and green place after crawling out of some very deep ravines. We all need times like this. They ready us for greater heights and depths.

And indeed, I have had times where my heart has swelled with love in the last couple of years. After leaving a large and wealthy parish that had trouble imagining any place for me other than children and youth ministry, the little round parish where I serve today, made up mostly of folks on disability and middle-income workers who are thrilled to take risks, has been a garden where the seeds of my ministry have truly been allowed to grow – even take up space! I have found a home there I never could have imagined.

But that’s not quite the same as joy.

Like hope, joy has teeth. Joy cannot exist outside of a context that allows for despair. There’s happiness, contentment, delight – but none of those are joy. Joy is the messiest of the happy emotions, the one that brings tears to your eyes.

That has been elusive for a long time.

And then, I did find it, just recently.

Some folks know that I have trouble with my birthday, similarly to how other folks in grief have trouble around the holiday season. My birthday was one of the only times a year I got to really be with my Dad one-on-one. He would drive into town and take me to lunch, usually to a Chinese food place, and we’d talk. After he got settled in Brackendale, and later Squamish, he opened up a lot more about his life. He shared songs and told me all about the band he had started, and the friends he had made. Squamish made him a new man.

The first birthday without him was my thirtieth. I had a ton of weird baggage around that birthday anyway.To face it without him, especially without the special day I had tried to plan with him only a few months before he died, made me want to spend the day under the bed. And man, I don’t even have an under the bed: it’s just a boxspring on the floor.

It’s been five years, and it’s a little easier each time, but it’s still hard. When I meet new people, I now often don’t even tell them when my birthday is. I would probably be quite happy never to celebrate it again.

So imagine my surprise when, entering the Sufi semahane prayer space the Saturday after my birthday, I was caught up in the arms of Seemi, my dear dervish friend, who knew none of these secrets and therefore spun with me right in the centre of the room under the wee skylight, singing, “Happy birthday to you!”

Now in a sense, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Nearly every time I am in Seemi’s presence I feel joy wafting off of her like the scent of fresh-baked bread. Her smile is mirth and stardust.

My surprise was not that Seemi should do something so celebratory, but that I should suddenly find myself in the arms of an emanation of God – a mother, beautiful, brown, and Muslim – who took such deep delight in having me as a friend that it overspilled into my waking world.

Several days before, I woke up at 3am, went into the other room, and wept soundlessly, unable to comprehend the stony solid fact that all things pass away, and I would too, and it would be alone.

Now, here in the arms of this dervish who was fully The Friend for me, my deep gravity (literal grave-ity) was dismissed as easily as a solitary raincloud in an endless expanse of blue.

“What have you to fear?” cried The Friend, and howled with laughter. “You think the grave will swallow me? I’ve made a sand palace of the grave! Come and play with me and we shall knock it down!”

My helpless laughter became tears, of course.

Both Friend and friend held me.

In these dark days as we continue to wait for the light that is coming into the world, perhaps God’s beloved child Mary had a similar experience in the arms of Elizabeth, both fearful and yet shaking with laughter at the absurdity of fear in the face of the One who calls us, transforms us, and sends us out into the world to set it ablaze.

May joy find you, and may you have the patience to ride her waves.

She will come, even to the wilderness.

Panagia Track #5: Beneath my ribs

Here’s Track 5 of Panagia, “Beneath my Ribs.”

There was a time where I felt constantly shadowed by death, not only in my exterior but my interior life. I wrestled a lot with sharing this song at all, but in the time of Advent, when we often mark the solstice with “Longest Night” and “Blue Christmas” services, and contemplate not only a joyful birth but the pain and horror that will end the amazing life which is coming into the world, it seemed appropriate. If this song speaks to you, know that you are not alone. I am joined here by my dear friend Thomas, who encouraged me to share it because of how it spoke to him. His support reminded me that lots of folks are too afraid to speak out about their pain, especially at this time of year, and how important it is to name our fears and our demons.

Panagia Track #4: Love will come

There’s not much to say about this piece except that when I first shared it with dear Thomas, with whom I sing as the duet group Say Goodbye, he noted with good humour, “You don’t do choruses, do you?” After that conversation, I made some changes so that this piece followed a more traditional structure. The title and repeated statements feel more like prayers every day. This song also has a Wiccan/Neo-pagan version, which is dedicated to Thomas and quite different, but arose out of the same tune. ;) I may release that version on one of the Sabbats.

Peace is done together (Letters from the Coast)

Not long ago our old dishwasher finally kicked the bucket. We were impressed it lasted as long as it did, as I suspect it was original to the condo and therefore probably as old as I am. But now the need to go through the dance of searching and price-comparing is upon us, and until we find The One we’re relegated to washing dishes by hand.

Honestly, although I’ll be happy to have the old clunker replaced, I don’t mind washing dishes this way. Out of all the household chores there are, washing dishes is the least tiresome to me. I’d rather do it than clean the bathroom or do laundry or even vacuum.

There are a number of reasons I can think of that this is so. Some of them are quite practical. The hot water feels nice on my hands. The task itself is fairly simple, and progress is easy to gauge. Dishes must be used again, so it’s not like other chores that often feel Sisyphean and meaningless, like wiping soap scum off the sink when I know it’s just going to reappear in a few days.

I also have good memories of doing dishes. When my father moved to his house in Port Coquitlam, the kitchen did not come equipped with a dishwasher. I ended up rather enjoying the post-dinner ritual of washing and drying and putting away dishes, because, like the long drive to get to his house, it was time I got to spend with him. I almost always dried rather than washed, and he was clever enough to somehow trick me into thinking washing required more responsibility, which meant that when I got to wash it felt like a step up. I still complained about it, as teenagers do, but secretly I didn’t mind.

Years later, I attended a friend’s wedding held at an island lodge, and holed up in a cabin during the reception to wash all of the dishes because I didn’t really know anybody and felt shy. Not only did it calm my nerves, it somehow felt easier to talk to the few who stood alongside me to help dry or put away…and then, of course, I was the hero of the day!

Looking at this simple household task in the light of Advent, I’m struck by the sense of peace I’ve encountered when doing it.

Retreat leaders often stress the importance of “work of hands” alongside prayer and workshops or reading. Monastics arrange their days around the same ‘beats’ or movements. Any task, no matter how mundane, can become an act of prayer. And if peace is already a part of it, so much the better.

Photo by the Rev. Dr. Marilyn Hames

The second Sunday of Advent focusses on peace, but this peace is deeper than the rather bloodless concept children sing songs about in school. Peace is more than the absence of war, and it’s more than the very solitary feeling most people reference when they talk about “inner peace.” It’s even more than the feeling I get when I wash dishes by hand, although I suspect it’s similar. When I wash dishes alone, I often feel myself slip outside time as the repetitive motions and warmth lull me into a sense of comfort and stability. I’m held by those earlier memories, that sense of family and purpose and appreciation. But of course I must remind myself that the memories themselves are much closer to God’s idea of peace, of which I feel a mere echo as I work, because those memories are of the task being done together.

And peace is done together, or not at all.

In Advent, we are called to also reflect on the coming peace that we are promised in the birth of the Prince of Peace. This is beyond any peace we can fully grasp on earth. This is more than bone deep. This is Spirit-deep.

My prayer for you is that, wherever it may reside in your life, you may find and lean into peace…and then share it with others.

Peace is done together, or not at all.

Panagia Track #3: Healing is Slow

I wrote this in late July after reading a Twitter thread by writer Kai Cheng Thom about how trauma affects interactions among marginalized peoples. It’s amazing to me that the human body can heal itself of superficial and severe injury through medicine, the strange magic of sleep, and a healthy diet, but it occurred to me that we must take a more active role in mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, and how very difficult that is. We have to untangle neural pathways in the brain that may have been helpful to us once but no longer are. I thought of grief, and how much longer it took me to fully grieve than I thought it would (and how indeed grief is unending), and then I thought of the kind of faith I have now versus the kind of faith I had as a younger person. It’s all a process, and yet it is so much easier when we find each other, when we do the work together. Can we hold each other?